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U.S. Ends Iraqi Border Offensive

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By Ellen Knickmeyer and Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, May 15, 2005

UBAYDI, Iraq, May 14 -- U.S. Marines rumbled back across the Euphrates River on a floating bridge Saturday, ending a week-long offensive against foreign fighters that had taken U.S. forces within two miles of the Syrian border.

Marines said the sweep north of the Euphrates, called "Operation Matador," was a success. Involving more than 1,000 Marines, it was the largest sustained U.S. offensive since the assault on Fallujah six months ago.

"The mission was to put on the pressure and show they did not have a safe haven from us. They ran from us," Lt. Col. Tim Mundy of the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment said on the riverbank, as Army engineers broke down the linked rafts that the Marines and their armored vehicles had traversed on their way to and from the campaign.

The operation had targeted foreign insurgents, particularly followers of Abu Musab Zarqawi, the al Qaeda leader blamed for many of the suicide bombings in Iraq. The hunt took Marines to a part of northwestern Iraq where neither Iraq's new government nor its security forces have a foothold, and where U.S. forces have not ventured in large numbers for a year.

The offensive came at a cost of at least nine Marines killed and about 40 wounded, Marines said.

The U.S. military said in a statement that the operation had killed more than 125 insurgents, most of whom died in a battle that broke out at Ubaydi last Sunday as Marines were massing for the river crossing. In addition, 39 "terrorists of intelligence value" were detained, the statement said.

Al-Arabiya television showed footage of a small demonstration in the city of Qaim, where people were demanding the release of a 57-year-old woman reportedly detained by U.S. Marines. Wafiq Samarrai, security adviser for Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, told al-Arabiya that "some sheiks contacted us and said the U.S. Marines have detained women in the city of Qaim. We called the multinational forces, and they denied this news."

In central Baghdad on Saturday, a suicide bomber targeted a police patrol, killing three Iraqis and wounding more than 35. The 1:30 p.m. car bombing on Nidhal Street sent thick plumes of black smoke into the air.

"In these days, we know only when we are going to leave our houses, but we do not know if we will return back home or not," said a 17-year-old laborer who gave his name as Saad. "For the last three weeks, I always kiss my mother and sisters goodbye before I leave home, and my mother cries when I do that, but I have to do it and I have to go out because I am the only one now to support them."

In a second attack, insurgents hurled grenades at a police convoy in western Baghdad, killing one policeman, the Reuters news agency reported.

Meanwhile, drive-by gunmen killed Jassim Mohammed Ghani, identified by police as a senior Foreign Ministry official, outside his Baghdad home around 9 p.m. Saturday night, the Associated Press reported.

But Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in a telephone interview that no one by that name held a senior post in the ministry. Zebari added that the slain man may have worked at the Foreign Ministry at a lower level or been a former employee. "He is definitely not a senior official of the ministry or we would have known him," Zebari said.


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